At the age of 22, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. I underwent chemotherapy to treat the cancer and save my life.
Three years ago, at the age of 30, I was told that due to the effects of the chemo on my body, I was likely to be infertile very soon after. The only chance of bearing my own children in the future was to freeze my eggs as quickly as possible.
At first, I wasn’t worried because I thought my insurance would cover it. However, when I called my insurer and was told the fertility preservation treatment I needed would not be covered, I was floored. I would have to face the same decision countless other Californians facing sterility risk when they need life-saving treatments like chemotherapy or radiation — pay out of pocket, face a long road of appeals and fighting with my insurance company to get them to do the right thing, or abandon any hope of children.
Putting aside the cruelty of these denials (clearly insurers are hoping we will either give up or die before they are forced to provide coverage on appeal), this blatant disregard for providing a benefit they are supposed to cover by law is unconscionable.
Senate Bill 600 (Portantino) holds insurers’ feet to the fire. It clarifies their obligation to cover fertility preservation for patients who must have medically necessary treatment that may leave them infertile. The bill passed the final Senate vote on September 11, 2019, and now heads to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk for signature.
Given insurance company delay tactics, time, and my projected deadline for infertility, I couldn’t let insurers block me from my one opportunity at a future family. I decided to pursue treatment on my own, and took out a loan against my retirement to pay for it.
I chose to go through this process because for me, these eggs symbolize hope and the possibility of a future and a family. But I shouldn’t have had to do it this way. Patients and survivors who have no choice but to accept life-saving treatments should be able to access standard, effective procedures so that they can one day have children.
I now have seven eggs in the freezer, which means I probably have a chance for one successful pregnancy. I wasn’t able to increase my chances with further treatments to retrieve more eggs as it was cost-prohibitive without the assistance of insurance coverage. The out-of-pocket costs of the treatment, procedures and medications, not including annual storage fees, were around $10,000. All of these are costs that my insurance company was supposed to cover — money that went to medical payments instead of towards building my future.
SB 600 shouldn’t be necessary, but it is. It neither imposes new coverage mandates, nor expands the population of covered individuals. It just provides greater clarity to existing law so that insurers must meet their obligations to patients. This legislation will stop other patients from choosing between saving their life and having a family. It will prevent Californians who have already faced a major health challenge from the added financial strain of out-of-pocket costs due to insurance coverage denials.
I urge Governor Newsome to sign SB 600 into law. In doing so, he and the state legislature will send the insurance industry a powerful message: we won’t let you take advantage of vulnerable constituents and deny them their right to start a family.
La Keishia Childers lives in Lakewood, CA and is a Board Member with Team Maggie for a Cure, a national non-profit organization that supports cancer patients and survivors with fertility preservation supportive services and financial assistance so individuals can “keep their dreams of family alive.” She advocates within the medical insurance system to help ensure cancer patients and survivors have access to resources to fulfill desires to conceive children and establish a family.